Syria forces in deadly raids, Red Cross visits jail

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Security forces on Monday launched deadly raids on the central cities of Hama and Homs, activists said, as the Red Cross gained access to a Damascus jail for the first time in Syria's uprising.

Activists said troops shot dead six people in assaults on the central cities of Homs and Hama, and that at least two more people were reported killed near the Turkish border.

The latest bloodshed came as International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) head Jakob Kellenberger ended a visit to Syria, where rights groups say 10,000 people have been arrested since anti-regime protests erupted in mid-March.

The ICRC said Kellenberger met President Bashar al-Assad before winding up his visit, a day after the organisation was for the first time granted access to a Syrian detention centre.

Its delegates visited Damascus central prison in Adra suburb on Sunday.

"Initially, we will have access to persons detained by the ministry of the interior, and we are hopeful that we will soon be able to visit all detainees," Kellenberger said in a statement.

"This is an important step forward for our humanitarian activities in Syria," he said.

The ICRC said Kellenberger "welcomed the progress made in terms of access to areas affected by the ongoing violence. He emphasized one of his main concerns now is to ensure that the wounded and sick are able to obtain medical care."

His meeting with Assad also covered "the rules governing the use of force by security forces in the current situation and the obligation to respect the physical and psychological well-being and human dignity of detainees," it said.

On the ground, "more than 30 military vehicles and security forces raided Hama this morning and heavy gunfire was heard in the city," said Omar Idlibi, spokesman of the Local Coordination Committees (LCC),

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 80 people were arrested in the Al-Khalidiyeh district of Homs, while the LCC spokesman said a sniper in the Idlib region killed a man who was trying to cross the border into Turkey.

A Turkish local source in touch with the Syrian community on the other side of the frontier said two people were killed and five wounded in an assault by Syrian troops on Ain al-Beida.

Another village, Khirbet al-Joz, was also attacked and some 700 people were seen fleeing to the border, the source said.

The governor's office in the southern Turkish province of Hatay sent ambulances to the border to pick up wounded people from the incident, Turkish NTV television said, without specifying the number of injured.

More than 2,200 people have been killed in Syria since the almost daily mass protests began, according to the United Nations. Assad's regime says it is fighting foreign-backed "armed terrorist gangs."

Amnesty International has said the number of deaths in Syrian prisons rose sharply in 2011.

"No less than 88 such deaths have been reported to Amnesty International as occurring during the period from April 1 and August 15," including 10 children aged between 13 and 18, the human rights group said at the end of August.

For at least 52 of them, Amnesty said there was "evidence that torture caused or contributed to the deaths."

Kellenberger's three-day mission is to be followed by Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi, who said Sunday that Damascus has agreed to a visit which he announced a week earlier after the 22-member bloc met on the Syria crisis.

"I will express Arab concerns and I will listen," he said.

Syria said an August 27 statement passed by Arab League foreign ministers on the country's deadly unrest contained "unacceptable and biased language," leaving Arabi to await a green light to visit.

The Arab foreign ministers at an emergency meeting called for an "end to the spilling of blood and (for Syria) to follow the way of reason before it is too late."

Russian news reports said members of Syria's opposition will travel to Moscow this week for talks with a top official aimed at putting more pressure on Assad.

Mikhail Margelov, head of the upper chamber of parliament's foreign affairs committee and the Kremlin's special envoy to Africa, said the second such talks since June would be held on Thursday or Friday.

"The main attention will focus on the processes occurring within the opposition itself," Margelov told the Interfax news agency.

The group Margelov met in Moscow on June 28 included the rights advocate Radwan Ziadeh, who heads the Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies in Washington.

Russia on Saturday criticised the European Union for imposing a unilateral embargo on oil imports on its Soviet-era ally and has called on the opposition to halt their protests and engage in direct negotiations with Assad.

A top Russian arms exports official said last month that Moscow also intended to fulfill its weapons delivery contracts to Syria despite Washington's call for a global end to such sales.

© 2011 AFP

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